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Morphologic and metabolic data of Philaenus spumarius froghoppers Bergman, Elisabeth; Green, Emma; Matthews, Philip

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Abstract

The xylem sap of vascular plants is an unlikely source of nutrition, being both nutrient poor and held under tensions (negative pressures) that can exceed 1 MPa. But some insects feed on xylem sap exclusively, extracting copious quantities using a muscular cibarial pump. However, neither the strength of the insect’s suction, nor the direct energetic cost of xylem ingestion, have ever been quantified. Philaenus spumarius froghoppers were used to address these gaps in our knowledge. Micro-CT scans of its cibarium and measurements of cibarial muscle sarcomere length revealed that P. spumarius can generate a maximum tension of 1.3 ± 0.2 MPa within its cibarium. The energetic cost of xylem extraction was quantified using respirometry to measure the metabolic rate (MR) of P. spumarius while they fed on hydroponically-grown legumes, while xylem sap excretion rate and cibarial pumping frequency were simultaneously recorded. Increasing the plants’ xylem tensions up to 1.1 MPa by exposing their roots to polyethylene glycol did not reduce the insects’ rate of xylem excretion, but significantly increased both MR and pumping frequency. We conclude that P. spumarius can gain energy feeding on xylem sap containing previously reported energy densities and at xylem tensions up to their maximum suction capacity.

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